American Purgatorio, Paperback Book

American Purgatorio Paperback

3 out of 5 (1 rating)


Jack's wife has disappeared. She was in the car when they stopped for gas, he knows that much.

He walked back from the counter, and then ? Jack can't remember. But Anne has gone. John Haskell's American Purgatorio is an extraordinary debut novel, haunting, comic and achingly poignant.

It's a road trip into the heart of a country and a man, a travelogue of loss and redemption, a Pilgrim's Progress for a godless world.


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In the beginning, this seemed like it was going to be a pretty standard (in a good way) “road trip” story. The narrator tells us that he was in a gas station with his wife, went inside to pay, and when he came out she and the car were gone. He has absolutely no idea why she would abandon him. So, I thought, it will be about his coming to terms with it and learning things about himself. Then he goes home and sees a road map with a number of cities circled. He thinks she must be travelling that route, so he gets a car and starts to drive along it himself, imagining he will find her somehow. As he travels, he has various amusing and interesting adventures and encounters, as usual for this type of story. (According to other reviews I looked at, these are a meditation on the seven deadly sins, but I have to admit I never saw that). He also keeps returning in his thoughts to the gas station scene and seeing/remembering/inventing more details and different possibilities. Was she kidnapped? Was there some sort of accident? This is well done, and very intriguing – is he really remembering more/better, or is he becoming more unhinged? It’s not at all clear.By the end, he comes to a resolution of all his questions, which some might find satisfying, but I found extremely unconvincing. I know books don’t have to end the way I want or expect them to, and stories don’t always have to make sense, but this ending was really disappointing. It’s a shame, because I had been enjoying it a lot up until then. I wouldn’t want to put you off, because you might love the ending, and anyway, a lot of the rest of it is a really good read.